10. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he plans to take to end the direct provision system; and his views on recent reports regarding the number of children in the direct provision system. [42443/18]
Deputy David Stanton: As the Deputy may be aware, direct provision involves a range of State services, including accommodation, food, health and education directly provided to international protection applicants through the relevant Departments and agencies. It is a whole-of-Government support system for those seeking international protection in Ireland. However, I will assume that the Deputy is referring primarily to the accommodation centres provided by the Reception and Integration Agency of my Department.
Notwithstanding the criticisms levelled at the system, particularly in terms of length of stay, it has proven effective in ensuring that those who come to our country seeking international protection receive food and shelter and have immediate access to these and other State services and supports. More than 60,000 people, including many children, have been provided with shelter since its inception. It is not possible to predict how many people seeking international protection will arrive in any given year. It can vary substantially from year to year. However, the system generally, with some recent small exceptions, ensures that all applicants, including children, are offered immediate shelter, full-board accommodation and a range of services such as health and education while their applications are being processed. I can assure the Deputy that I will give serious consideration to any alternative system that can provide immediate shelter and access to State services in the instance of the spontaneous arrival of families and children with unestablished needs who unexpectedly turn up in Ireland seeking protection. To date, no alternative has been put forward, but I will continue to keep an open mind on the matter.
The Deputy has asked about the number of children in care who are being looked after or living in direct provision accommodation. At the end of August, there was a total of 1,591 children – 822 males and 769 females - in direct provision accommodation, all of whom reside with their parents or guardians. Unaccompanied minors are the responsibility of Tusla.
As the Deputy is aware, on 30 June this year, the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, signed the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations to transpose the directive into national law. The directive includes important provisions in regard to rights to gain access to health and education services, as well as in regard to children's rights and material reception conditions for applicants which include housing, food, clothing and a daily expense allowance which, as we know, has gone up. This represents a major change in managing the reception conditions for those seeking international protection in Ireland. I am pleased that the standards that must be reached in how we treat those seeking international protection are now underpinned by law. Any replacement proposed for direct provision would have to meet all of these standards. Significant improvements to the living conditions of applicants have been made in recent years. I can go through them on a later date or pass them on to the Deputy.
The McMahon tribunal recommendations are being implemented, virtually in full.